Tuesday, January 24, 2012

English PEN warns Leveson against state regulation

English PEN Bulletin

English PEN warns Leveson against state regulation

Heawood: 'We would rather live in a noisy, open society than a quiet and over regulated one.'

Giving evidence to the Leveson Inquiry, English PEN Director Jonathan Heawood today argued strongly against moves towards statutory press regulation, describing proposed co-regulation as a veiled form of statutory regulation, that is subject to political influence.

He urged immediate reform of libel law and a review of privacy law, saying: 'It is essential that the underlying law is right, and that it is accessible to all, not just those with the largest chequebooks.'

Heawood cautioned against focusing too much on regulation as the panacea to all problems. He noted that the media industry is changing rapidly and that some publishers may choose to stay outside the regulator. 'We shouldn't try to regulate the stable door after the horse has bolted,' he warned.

Read more...English PEN's written submission to the Leveson Inquiry was submitted in November and is available to view online here. 
View a summary of the key points of English PEN's evidence session on Storify. 
Jonathan Heawood was giving evidence to the Leveson Inquiry with John Kampfner, Chief Executive of Index on Censorship.  A full transcript of their evidence will be published on the Leveson Inquiry website. 
English PEN is part of the Libel Reform Campaign, together with Index on Censorship and Sense About Science.  The campaign calls for major reform of England & Wales's outdated libel laws, as well as reforms to procedures and legal costs.  Visit www.libelreform.org to sign up to the campaign. 
mailing address is: 
English PEN
Free Word Centre
60 Farringdon Road
London, Eng EC1R 3GA

Muslim organizations file cases against authors who read from Rushdie's book

source : Times of India

Muslim organizations file cases against authors who read from Rushdie's book

JAIPUR: After the police complaints lodged a day earlier, at least half-a-dozen court cases have been filed against four authors and three organisers of the Jaipur Literature Festival (JLF) where extracts from Salman Rushdie's banned book 'The Satanic Verses' were publicly read on January 20.
In Jaipur, five complaints have been filed by different individuals and organizations, including the All India Milli Council and the BJP minority cell, in a lower court demanding action against four authors Hari Kunzru, Amitava Kumar, Jeet Thayil and Ruchir Joshi and festival organizers Sanjoy Roy, Namita Gokhale, William Dalrymple.
Four of the complaints in Jaipur are scheduled to be heard by different courts on Tuesday, while the Milli Council's case is slated for a hearing on January 30. The case in Ajmer court by an individual allegedly linked to the ruling Congress party would be heard on January 25.
"We did not know that Rushdie would be participating at the literary event through video conferencing, otherwise we would have requested the court to order a stay on this too," the Mili Council secretary Abdul Latif told TOI on Monday.
The Council has sought action under various sections of the Indian Penal Code (IPC). "The book is banned in India so, legally, the authors cannot even read from it at a public event," Latif said. "We have sought action under IPC sections 153, 153A, 295, 295A, 298, 505, 504 and 120B," he added.
IPC Section 153 involves prosecution for wantonly giving provocation with intent to cause riot, Section 153A relates to punishment for promoting enmity between different groups on grounds of religion, Section 295A pertains to deliberate and malicious acts, intended to outrage religious feelings of any class by insulting its religion or religious covers beliefs and Section 298 is invoked for uttering words with deliberate intent to wound the religious feelings of any person.
"A series of complaints have been filed in separate courts, including five at Jaipur and one at Ajmer against the authors and organizers. One complaint at Jaipur is by the BJP minority cell's Daulat Khan and the one at Ajmer by Muzaffar Bharti, who represents a local group, is a primary member of the Congress," alleged Kavita Srivastava, the civil rights organization PUCL's secretary.
The hardliner Muslim organizations and community leaders have been opposing Rushdie's participation in the literary event this year even though the author attended it as one of the speakers in 2007. The Muslim community protestors maintain that Rushdie's book has hurt its religious sentiments.

Source : Times of India

Monday, January 23, 2012

English PEN statement of solidarity with Jaipur authors

English PEN statement of solidarity with Jaipur authors

English PEN Bulletin
The board of trustees of English PEN today issue a statement of support in solidarity with five writers who have faced harassment for defending free expression in India.

Amitava Kumar, Hari Kunzru, Jeet Thayil, Ruchir Joshi and S. Anand, all attendees at the Jaipur Literary Festival, staged symbolic readings of The Satanic Verses after their fellow writer Salman Rushdie was forced to cancel his planned appearance.  Soon after, local police arrived and began making enquiries about ‘illegal conduct’ at the festival.

Salil Tripathi, English PEN Trustee and Chair of its Writers in Prison Committee, said:

These events paint a worrying picture of the state of free expression in India.  The Rajasthan police offered no support to Salman Rushdie when he was threatened.  And instead of protecting authors who take a stand defending free expression, the police appear to be harassing them instead. The way the security services have handled this incident falls way short of India’s aspirations and claims to be a democracy. 

Gillian Slovo, President of English PEN, said:

The Jaipur Literary Festival should be able to showcase a commitment to artistic expression. Unfortunately, the threats against Rushdie, and the subsequent harassment of those who stood up to defend him, demonstrate how difficult it can be to do this in India.

The organisers of the Jaipur Literary Festival issued a statement distancing the organisers from the actions of the five authors, saying that “any action by any delegate or anyone else involved with the Festival that in any manner falls foul of the law will not be tolerated and all necessary, consequential action will be taken”.  Responding to the statement, Gillian Slovo said:

The ban on The Satanic Verses is an affront to free expression.  It allows the kind of police harassment we have seen this week in Jaipur, and legitimises the threats of violence against authors like Salman Rushdie.  It is disappointing that the organisers of the festival did not use their position to condemn this ban and so support a group of writers who did nothing more than read from a work of literary fiction.

Why I quoted from The Satanic Verses

I wanted to give a voice to Salman Rushdie, a writer silenced by a death threat, not offend anyone's religious sensibilities
Salman Rushdie
Salman Rushdie, who decided not attend the Jaipur Literature Festival in India after he had been told of new death threats. Photograph: Alberto Estevez/EPA
On Friday, over lunch, I heard the news that Salman Rushdie would not be attending the Jaipur Literature Festival. His visit had been in doubt for some time. Initially we had been scheduled to have a conversation on stage that afternoon, but since Maulana Abul Qasim Nomani, the head of the Darul Uloom seminary in Deoband, had called for him to be prevented from entering India, the festival organisers had been fighting a storm of manufactured controversy, not unconnected with the upcoming Uttar Pradesh state elections.
Salman has been visiting India without incident for many years, and spoke at the JLF in 2007. Clearly, the sudden eruption of righteous indignation at his presence was not spontaneous. The manipulation of religious sentiment for political ends has a long history in India, and this was merely a particularly cynical example of a traditional election-time activity.
Initially, the directors of the JLF asked Salman to delay his arrival while they worked with the authorities to provide security, and attempted to defuse a planned protest. Our Friday event was moved to Tuesday morning, and his name was removed from the festival programme. Then came the news, apparently originating in police intelligence reports seen by the festival team, that three assassins had been dispatched from Bombay with orders to murder him. Now there appears to be doubt about the veracity of these reports – Mumbai police deny that they communicated any such intelligence, and the Hindu newspaper has reported that the story of the assassins was concocted by the Rajasthani police. Whatever the truth of this, it was enough to prevent Salman from travelling to India.
Amitava Kumar and I were extremely angry. We felt that it was important to show support for Salman, who is often misrepresented and caricatured as a sort of folk-devil by people who know little or nothing about his work. This situation has arisen in India at a time when free speech is under attack. Recent moves to institute "pre-screening" of internet content, and kneejerk bans of books such as Joseph Lelyveld's masterly biography of Gandhi, show that these are not good times for those who wish to say unpopular things in the world's largest democracy.
We decided that we would use our afternoon session, in which Amitava was due to interview me about my novel Gods Without Men to highlight the situation. We decided (without consulting the festival organisers, or anyone else) that I would make a statement, and then we would quote from The Satanic Verses. We knew this little-read and much-burned book was banned in India, but it was our understanding that this meant it was a crime to publish, sell or possess a copy. We knew it would be considered provocative to quote from it, but did not believe it was illegal. A pirated text exists on the internet, and we downloaded two passages, 179 and 208 words in length respectively.
Our intention was not to offend anyone's religious sensibilities, but to give a voice to a writer who had been silenced by a death threat. Reading from another one of his books would have been meaningless. The Satanic Verses was the cause of the trouble, so The Satanic Verses it would have to be. We did not choose passages that have been construed as blasphemous by Muslim opponents of the book – this would have been pointless, as these passages have overshadowed the rest of the content of the novel, which concerns the relationship between faith and doubt, and contains much that has nothing to do with religion whatsoever. We wanted to demystify the book. It is, after all, just a book. Not a bomb. Not a knife or a gun. Just a book.
To the audience in the Durbar Hall, I read the following statement. It is a little rough, as it was written in haste:
Today, I am sad to say, is a bleak day for Indian literature. We heard earlier from Gurcharan Das, Alex Watson and Oscar Pujol about the place that doubt, dissent and argumentation held in the very origins of Indian thought [this is a reference to an earlier session, which dealt with scepticism in Vedic philosophy]. Today, one of India's greatest novelists, Salman Rushdie – a writer whose work enshrines doubt as a necessary and valuable ethical position – has been prevented from addressing this festival by those whose certainty leads them to believe that they have the right to kill anyone who opposes them. This kind of blind, violent certainty is in opposition to everything the festival stands for – openness, intellectual growth and the free exchange of ideas. There are many rights for which we should fight, but the right to protection from offence is not one of them. Freedom of speech is a foundational freedom, on which all others depend. Freedom of speech means the freedom to say unpopular, even shocking things. Without it, writers can have little impact on the culture. Unless we come out strongly in support of Rushdie's right to be here, and to speak to us, we might as well shut the doors of this hall and go home.
Then I read from the novel. I had already finished when Sanjoy Roy came to the side of the stage and told us that we shouldn't continue. Amitava and I spoke for some time about the influence of Rushdie on my work, and of the themes of doubt and certainty in Gods Without Men. He then quoted the second excerpt, a description of what London might be like if it was "tropicalised", one of many comic passages in The Satanic Verses which have no religious content. I would link here to the passages we read, which I maintain are absolutely inoffensive to even the most delicate religious sensibility, but given my current legal circumstances, this does not seem wise.
At the end of the session, I signed books. Quickly a mob scene developed as I was surrounded by journalists who wanted to know why Amitava and I had made our protest. Backstage, the festival organisers were upset. This was something about which they had no foreknowledge, and over which they had no control. The bad atmosphere was compounded by the news that, completely independently, two other writers – Jeet Thayil and Ruchir Joshi – had also read from The Satanic Verses. I was not present at that reading, and I'll leave it to them to give an account of their actions and intentions.
News of the readings travelled fast. Sanjoy Roy was soon taking calls from clerics and politicians, including one from the chief minister of Rajasthan. The Jaipur police commissioner arrived, interviewed us briefly, and went away, apparently reassured that no law had in fact been broken.
A lawyer appeared who closeted himself with the festival organisers. He drafted a statement, which we were asked to sign, making clear that the festival was not responsible for our actions. It was left to my friend Sara Chamberlain to find someone to provide legal advice to me. This advice was blunt: I should leave India immediately, as otherwise I risked arrest and might well find myself unable to return home to New York until any resulting cases had been resolved.
The festival organisers later informed me that they had been advised that it was unsafe for me to stay in Jaipur, and my continued presence at the festival would only inflame an already volatile situation. I left early on Saturday morning, and left India the same day.
I would like to reiterate that in taking this action I believed (and continue to believe) that I was not breaking the law, and had no interest in causing gratuitous offense. I apologise unreservedly to anyone who feels I have disrespected his or her faith.
I refute absolutely the accusation of Asaduddin Owaisi, the Hyderabad MP who has accused me of "Islam-bashing under the guise of liberalism". I stand on my public record as a defender of the human rights of Muslims, notably my work for Moazzam Begg and other British Muslims detained without trial in Guantánamo Bay.
To Mr Owaisi, and others who feel that the notion of "freedom of speech" is just a tool of secular western interests, a license to insult them, I say that the contrary is true. Freedom of speech is the sole guarantee of their right to be heard in our complex and plural global culture. It is the only way of asserting our common life across borders of race, class and religion. Just as I reach out my hand to Salman Rushdie, I do so to Mr Owaisi, and to Maulana Abul Qasim Nomani, whose seminary is, after all, called the "House of Knowledge", in the hope that, as fellow believers in the vital importance of words, we can resolve our differences – or at least come to understand them correctly – through speech and writing, instead of violence and intimidation.
• Comments on this article will be switched off overnight and turned on again at 9am Monday (23 January, UK time)
Source :The Guardian


Writers take a stand against Rushdie ban

23 Jan 2012

As the controversy surrounding Salman Rushdie’s withdrawal from the Jaipur Literary Festival rumbles on, Indian writers are organising against censorship
Liverpool had its Fab Four, but now Jaipur in India has its own Fab Five — writers Amitava Kumar, Hari Kunzru, Jeet Thayil, Ruchir Joshi and Anand.
When the Rajasthan police apparently concocted a fictitious assassination plot leading Salman Rushdie to stay away from the Jaipur Literature Festival, the mood in Jaipur was glum. Everyone took the plot to be real, until The Hindu reported the convoluted manipulation by the police.
Many in India wanted to hear Rushdie, who avoided India during the fatwa years and has been able to make only a few visits since 2000. Festival goers were hoping to hear him speak about the filming of Midnight’s Children and his forthcoming memoir. But protests from Muslim groups and the plausible threat made him change his mind.
Which is where the Fab Four came in. On Friday, Poughkeepsie, NY-based Kumar, who teaches at Vassar and who has irritated Hindu nationalists in the past with his magnificent, in-your-face memoir, Husband of a Fanatic started reading passages from The Satanic Verses. Hari Kunzru, a British-Indian novelist based in New York  also took a stand at the same panel discussion. Both novelists stopped reading after the alarmed festival organisers pleaded with them.
Kunzru, a former English PEN vice-president, takes freedom of expression seriously. When the European Writers’ Parliament met in Istanbul and Turkish authors protested against the presence of VS Naipaul, forcing Naipaul to cancel his appearance, Kunzru spoke out. Reading from Rushdie’s controversial novel was no different.
The mood in Jaipur had changed. By  Friday afternoon, unexpectedly, the poet and novelist Jeet Thayil picked another passage from The Satanic Verses, and read aloud. Finally, Ruchir Joshi, film-maker and novelist, whose magical The Last Jet-Engine Laugh is an uproarious account of a futuristic India, read from The Satanic Verses. Tensions rose.
Soon thereafter, the police arrived, making inquiries about illegal conduct at the festival. Importing The Satanic Verses into India is prohibited but the law is unclear if possessing the novel is a crime, or reading aloud an extract from it is a crime. A lawyer or the People’s Union of Civil Liberties, the only local civil society group to support Rushdie last week, said that as the four authors read extracts from downloads, and not a book, it may not be a crime. Shashi Tharoor, novelist, diplomat, and parliamentarian pointed out he has routinely quoted and cited from The Satanic Verses and never been troubled.
In any case, the police should not throw around terms terms such as “guilt” and “crime”, as they have been doing, when they haven’t filed charges, nor proved their case before a judge.

The government could claim that by reading from the novel the authors incited the public. But incited to do what? Demand overturning the ban, nothing more. In fact, eyewitnesses say that the four authors were listened to in respectful silence, and warmly applauded. In any case, if the government wishes to proceed against the authors and is really mean-spirited, it could do so under S. 295A which gives the state the power to use criminal law against individuals who may have intended to cause trouble. But was there criminal intent, or mens rea? Sure, this is defiance, and it challenges a governmental act but it is Gandhian in its peaceful nature.
Police are seeking recordings of the reading, which, at the time of writing, the festival organisers are refusing to hand over. It is clear that the Rajasthan Police’s actions are meant to intimidate the authors and their supporters.
The role of the festival organisers — while their position is delicate — also requires scrutiny. If an author read from Ma Jian’s Beijing Coma, or Liu Xiaobo’s poems, or displayed Ai Wei Wei’s art at a public event in China, one would expect that the police would swoop down, and the organisers would very likely be forced to hand over the author to the Chinese security.
But this is India; a nation that holds elections, calls itself a democracy, and has a constitution that offers some protection for free speech. The actions of the Indian government in recent days, the intimidation of the five writers and its pusillanimity over Rushdie’s visit fall considerably short of India’s aspirations and claims.
While the organisers haven’t yet handed over the tapes, they told the authors to leave Jaipur immediately, lest they be arrested. It is not known if they offered them any protection. Worse, a lawyerly statement was issued, which in effect blamed the authors for “disturbing the peace”, because they acted outside the confines of the law. The organisers dissociated themselves from the action — which they can make a case for,  but did not uphold the four’s right to speak freely, which is harder to justify. They should have said that even though they disagreed with the action, they’d defend the principle of free speech. But India isn’t there yet, it seems.
Future participants, apparently, will have to conform to rules not yet defined, so that they act within the confines of the law. Such rules defeat the rationale of a festival of literature, where ideas are expressed to be argued over and debated; such rules restrict fundamental freedoms.
On Sunday, the writer Anand —who publishes dalit literature under the imprint Navayana — joined the protests, reading an eloquent passage from The Satanic Verses, which underscores the spirit of the protests:
What kind of idea are you? Are you the kind that compromises, does deals, accommodates itself to society, aims to find a niche, to survive: or are you the cussed, bloody-minded, ramrod-backed type of damnfool notion that would rather break than sway with the breeze? The kind that will almost certainly, ninety-nine times out of hundred, be smashed to bits: but, the hundredth time, will change the world.
On Monday, leading Indian writers began to circulate a petition to the Indian Prime Minister, Manmohan Singh, calling for the ban on The Satanic Verses to be lifted. The battle to undo the damage of the past quarter century has begun.
There are no ifs and buts. As Rushdie wrote in The Satanic Verses:
A Poets work (is) to name the unnamable, to point at frauds, to take sides, start arguments, shape the world and stop it from going to sleep.
It is time for India to wake up.

Source : Index censorship

Saturday, January 21, 2012

An annual report 2011: The PEN community in West Bengal, India

An annual report 2011: The PEN community in West Bengal, India 
22nd Jan 2012

The PEN West Bengal  together with BudhBikel (Wednesday Afternoon) has been holding as usual weekly sittings with rendering of literary contributions and discussion.

On 26 01 2011 The PEN, West Bengal had arranged a literary programme in the A/C hall of the Kolkata bookfair  organized by the Publishers and Bookselleres Guild. Many poets and literary personal, besides the members of the PEN participated to make the programme success.

The Annual literary Evening of the PEN West Bengal was arranged on 25.04 2011 in the hall of Bangla Academy. Eminent poets and literary personal attended and participated the programme which was presided by Sri Sunil Gangopadhyay, Chairman of the PEN West Bengal.

A general body meeting of the PEN West Bengal was arranged on 21 08 2011 at the Theosophical  Society Hall. It was attended by the members in large numbers. The following agenda were discussed.
1.Accounts 2. Membership 3. Publication of the annual literary volume 4. Election of the new excutive committee members 5. Annual literary awards 6. Miscellanious

The PEN West Bengal organized a programme on  09. 09. 2011. In the Jibananda Hall of Bangla Academy where in The Nilima Gupta memorial award for theatre was awarded. To Smt Usha Ganguly an eminent person of the theatrical  world of Kolkata Nilima Gupta memorial lecture was delivered by Dr. Anirban Roy Chowdhury.

The PEN Westbengal  Arranged an excursion to Digha, on 23. 09 . 2011. On the occasion a literary session on 24 09. 2011 was also arranged which was chaired by Sri Surojit Dasgupta, executive chairman of PEN. And Fajlul Alam, a well known writer from Bangladesh was honoured in the programme. He was also the chief guest. The excursion ended on 25.09.2011

Besides members of the PEN West Bengal assembled in the house of Sri Nisith Roy chowdhury on 18. 08.11 and 05. 10.11 and arranged a literary programme as usual.  We, PEN community in West Bengal visit any place or join any literary event anywhere in India if any organization or individual expresses a sponsorship.

Albert Ashok
Spl. and communication executive 

January 12 letter from John Ralston Saul, International President

News: Monthly letter from John Ralston Saul, International President – January 2012

January 18, 2012
Dear friends, Dear PEN members,
A few days from now a large delegation – ten of us – will go to Mexico City. This will be a strong expression of solidarity for Mexican writers and journalists. It will also be unprecedented, with the entire Executive going – Hori Takeaki, Eric Lax and myself – as well as the Chair of the Writers in Prison Committee – Marian Botsford Fraser – and representatives of all four North American Centres, as well as the English and Japanese, all going to stand in public with our Mexican colleagues. Émile Martel, Russell Banks, Adrienne Clarkson, Gillian Slovo, Larry Siems and Adam Somers, as well as Renu Mandhane, head of the International Human Rights Program of the University of Toronto’s Faculty of Law, will join the Executive.
We will be working with the three Mexican PEN Centres – Mexico, Guadalajara and San Miguel Allende. The culmination of this will be a public event organized by Jennifer Clement, President of PEN Mexico, and her members, involving the delegation and some 50 Mexican writers on Sunday, January 29.
There is also a public letter of solidarity to Mexican writers which I hope you will all sign. It is coming to you separately.
This is not a delegation of experts. It is a delegation of writers using our public voice. And what we do and say will be quickly transmitted to you in the hope that you will respond in your own countries.
This is all part of a sustained Mexican PEN campaign. Recently the Day of the Dead initiative initiated by Jens Lohman of Danish PEN and Tony Cohan of San Miguel PEN, spread our concerns about the threats faced by Mexican journalists throughout our membership. We hope that these new Mexican initiative will take on our campaign a stage further.
A lot of you are already sending material to the new website. This is what we need: Centres all over the world telling the rest of PEN about their work and their risks. Please contribute.
Finally, these last few weeks have been moving and historically important for Czech writers and for the belief in freedom of expression that all of us have. First, our former President, Jiří Gruša, one of the leading dissident writers of the post war period died. Then Václav Havel, about whom a great deal has rightly been written around the world. Then Ivan Jirous, whom Paul Wilson called the “leader of the Cultural Opposition”. Jirous was a poet, essayist and leader of the psychedelic rock band Plastic People of the Universe. The struggle to get him out of prison in part inspired the Chapter 77 movement. And finally, Josef Škvorecký has died, another great writer and leading dissident. Living in exile in Toronto he created 68 Publishers in 1971 and for two decades published banned Czech and Slovak writers. The books then made their way illegally back into Czechoslovakia. Of course, there are many more names, but when four courageous and inspired writers die almost together it should be marked as an important moment for all of us in PEN.
Best wishes,
John Ralston Sau

Friday, January 20, 2012

PEN Statement on Death Threat to Salman Rushdie

News: PEN Statement on Death Threat to Salman Rushdie

PEN International is appalled to learn that the author Salman Rushdie has once again been the subject of a death threat; we condemn this criminal attempt to silence an international exponent of free speech.
Rushdie was warned of the threat to his life shortly before he was due to attend the Jaipur Literary Festival, Asia’s largest event of its kind. The author had intended to discuss one of his earlier novels, the Booker-prize winning Midnight’s Children. The threat caused Rushdie to withdraw from the festival.
A brief statement was issued by the writer explaining that he had been warned by intelligence sources that members of Mumbai’s criminal underworld had put a price on his head. He said that he was unwilling to risk appearing at the festival, where there would be some risk to his family and other festival attendees.
Rushdie was the victim of an infamous attack on free speech over the publication of his book The Satanic Verses (1988), when the Ayatollah Ruohollah Khomeini issued a fatwa calling for Rushdie’s death, forcing him to remain in hiding for many years.

Source: PEN

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Why Salman Rushdie should turn up at Jaipur festival

A cobbler wearing a mask of controversial British author Salman Rushdie polishes shoes outside a mosque during a protest by an Islamic organisation in Mumbai on January 11, 2011 Muslim groups have protested against Mr Rushdie
The uncertainty over Salman Rushdie's participation in the Jaipur Literature Festival following protests by an Islamic seminary has a sense of déjà vu about it.
To be sure, the 64-year-old author hasn't officially called off his trip at the time of writing. The organisers say that he's not turning up on the first day of the five-day festival, but have removed his name from the list of speakers. Rajasthan Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot has made it abundantly clear he would prefer Mr Rushdie to stay away.
India swiftly banned Mr Rushdie's Satanic Verses in 1988 because some clerics said it had insulted Islam. (The author said he was "hurt and humiliated" by the decision.) Now Darul Uloom, a leading seminary, has kicked up a storm saying Mr Rushdie should not be allowed into the country.
Darul Uloom is based in Uttar Pradesh which is going to the polls next month. Several political parties have said they support the seminary's demand. None of them want to antagonise Muslims, who make up 18% of the state's voters. Hosting Mr Rushdie, many in the ruling Congress party privately believe, would hurt its prospects.
Predictably there's a Twitter storm over the developments.
Keeping Mr Rushdie out, says one tweet, is a "sign of an immature democracy".
There were angrier tweets aplenty. If Mr Rushdie doesn't turn up, it will be a reflection of "the slimy cowardice of the soft state bit". "This isn't a society... Not a democracy... But the biggest hypocrisy in the world !!!", screamed another. "Nothing remains untouched by politics... not even literature," tweeted an exasperated journalist.
All of this, unfortunately, appears to be true. India, say many, has become an opportunistically soft state, unwilling to make its writ run for narrow political and religious ends. Both Muslim and Hindu groups have been responsible for launching attacks on freedom of expression, with the state usually capitulating without offering any resistance, critics say. They also question whether members of these groups have actually read the works they are so quick to criticise.
India's record of protecting freedom of speech has been patchy. Hardline religious groups - sometimes supported by governments - have burnt books, vandalised paintings, threatened scholars, forced a painter into exile, and pressurised authorities to ban books and essays.
Many believe Mr Rushdie should make a point by turning up at the festival, and the organisers and book lovers should force the government to give him protection. A no-show would be another damning indictment of a country which never tires of advertising itself as the world's largest democracy. This is the time to stand up.

Source: BBC

[English PEN] Protect Salman Rushdie at the Jaipur Literary Festival

English PEN Bulletin

English PEN calls upon Indian government to protect Salman Rushdie

English PEN protests against the failure of the Indian authorities to offer adequate protection to the author Salman Rushdie, who is apparently facing pressure to withdraw from the Jaipur Literature Festival in the wake of extremist threats.

English PEN understands that, rather than defending Rushdie’s right to freedom of expression, officials urged the festival organisers to stop him attending, nominally in order to maintain public order.

Gillian Slovo, author and President of English PEN, said: ‘Salman Rushdie was born in India and has every right to visit the country of his birth. The Indian Government had earlier said it would not stop Rushdie from attending the festival and it should honour its commitment to freedom of expression.’

Salil Tripathi, author and Chair of English PEN’s Writers in Prison Committee, said: ‘We urge the Indian Government to uphold its own laws, and protect artistic freedoms and the rights of people to read, debate, and argue peacefully so that the country lives up to the ideals of Rabindranath Tagore: a heaven of freedom where the mind is without fear and the head is held high.’

Salman Rushdie participated in the Jaipur Literature Festival in 2007 and is a regular visitor to India. In 2010 he said at a public lecture in New Delhi: ‘The best way to avoid getting offended is to shut a book. … The worst thing is that artists are soft targets. … We do not have armies protecting us.’

  • English PEN is the founding centre of an international writers’ association with centres in 104 countries. It is a registered charity (no. 1125610) that promotes the freedom to write, and the freedom to read, in the UK and internationally.
  • The Indian government is committed to upholding freedom of expression under the Indian Constitution, and under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which India is a signatory.
  • Salman Rushdie has won the Man Booker Prize and the Booker of Bookers and the James Joyce Prize. In 2010, English PEN awarded him its highest honour, the Golden PEN award, for a lifetime’s achievement. Rushdie’s 1988 novel, The Satanic Verses, prompted the Iranian leader Ayatollah Khomeini to issue a fatwa. India was the first country in the world to ban the novel. English PEN condemned the fatwa then, and vigorously supported Rushdie's freedom to write.